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Hockey World Cup: Optimistic India look to end 43 years of hurt

Anil Rajpurohit

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India

Bhubaneswar | Armed with a sense of togetherness, self- belief and a strong crowd backing them every moment, India will seek to end 43 years of hurt when they begin the Hockey World Cup campaign against South Africa here Wednesday. The hosts’ Pool C encounter will open the showpiece at the Kalinga Stadium.

Eight-time Olympic champions India’s only glory at the World Cup came way back in 1975 when Ajit Pal Singh and his men’s created history for the past masters of the game.

Since then India has failed to match the standards of the Europeans — Netherlands, Germany — and Australia, who have been ruling the game for over four decades now. In the last 10 editions since its maiden triumph in 1975, India’s best performance was a fifth-place finish at the 1992 edition in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Now, the world ranked fifth Indians would be eager to recreate the magic by reaching the semifinals, and possibly a podium finish.

That is though easier said than done as besides tackling powerhouses like two-time defending champions Australia, Netherlands, Germany and Olympic champions Argentina, the Indians will be under pressure to live up to the expectations of millions of fans.

The last time India played a World Cup at home, in 2010 in New Delhi, it finished a lowly eighth and going by records, the host nation has never fared well in the tournament.

All the nine countries to host a World Cup till date have finished eighth or above but Harendra Singh’s men would be hoping to rewrite that in front of home fans.

For chief coach Harendra Singh, who has come under the scanner after India’s failure to defend it’s Asian Games title earlier this year, the tournament is a do-or-die one and a failure is sure to cost him his job.

Harendra would be hoping to recreate the magic of two years ago when he guided the junior Indian team to the World Cup title in Lucknow.

To achieve his goal, Harendra has drafted in seven of 18 junior World Cup winners in the senior team alongside senior pros like skipper Manpreet Singh, PR Sreejesh, Akashdeep Singh and the ever-reliable Birendra Lakra.

The Indian team for the World Cup is a mixture of youth and experience with seven of the 18 featuring in the last World Cup. The squad also has youthful exuberance in 19-year-old striker Dilpreet Singh and debutant Hardik Singh. But two notable absentees from the squad are dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh, who has been dropped and striker SV Sunil, who is unfit.

In the 16-nation tournament India are placed alongside South Africa, Belgium and Canada in their group. Barring world no. 3 Belgium, India are expected to win hands down against world no. 15 South Africa and world no. 11 Canada.

The match against Belgium is India’s big test in the pool stages and a win against the Red Lions is a must for the hosts to avoid the cross-overs and qualify directly for the quarterfinals. After South Africa, India’s opponents are Belgium on December 2 and Canada on December 8.

It is only the second World Cup after 2002 to feature 16 teams. From four pools of four teams each, the toppers will directly qualify for the quarterfinals while the second and third placed sides will have to play four cross-over matches to earn their places in the last-eight round.

Just like all big-ticket hockey events, Australia, Netherlands and Germany will once again start favourites to lift the title. The Kookaburras, in fact, will be vying to create history by becoming the first team to win the trophy for the third time in a row. In the other match of the opening day, Belgium will take on Canada.

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To hell with the nets, boys need rest: Ravi Shastri

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Ravi Shahtri

Adelaide | “To hell with the nets,” was what Ravi Shastri said Monday after a memorable 31-run win in the opening Test against Australia, the India coach stressing more on resting his players.

Having suffered back-to-back defeats in South Africa and England, India began the Test series against Australia in earnest, winning the opening match Down Under for the first time in over seven decades. “We lost the first Test in England by 31, lost the first Test in South Africa by 60-70, so this is a very good feeling for the boys to come out on top. When you get off to a good start, there’s belief,” Shastri said.

The teams will be heading to Perth for the second Test that starts on December 14 and Shastri, who is confident that the fast bowlers will have a crucial role to play, hinted at ditching net practice ahead of the clash.

“They have to rest up, to hell with the nets. You just come there, mark your attendance and get away to the hotel. We know the Perth track is quick, it’s a drop in surface, there will be something there for the fast bowlers.”

A collective performance by the four-man Indian bowling attack — pacers Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and spinner Ravichandran Ashwin — helped India earn a 15-run first innings lead before they completed a rare win in this part of the world.

“The bowlers were brilliant in the first innings, defending 250, the discipline was magnificent. They’ve worked on it, it’s not come in overnight. As a bowling unit, when you show that discipline, it doesn’t matter which side you play against. You will be successful,” Sahstri said.

The coach also said he was hopeful that players had learnt from their mistakes in the first innings and commended Man of the Match, Cheteshwar Pujara, for his knocks in both the innings. “There was some rash shots played in the first innings, that was foolish cricket, but they learnt from it. Pujara was absolutely magnificent, we’ve asked him to be a little more upright to counter bounce in these conditions.”

On youngster Rishabh Pant, who equalled the world record of most catches in a Test by a wicketkeeper, dropping the catch of Nathan Lyon, Shastri said: “You have to allow him to play his game, but he has to be a little more sensible now. “He did the hard work in getting Lyon to spread his fields, so he has to be smarter. You make a mistake now, but don’t repeat it, then I’ll be in his ears.”

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India make statement of intent with 31-run win, lead series 1-0

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India

Adelaide | India gave wings to their ferocious ambition of winning a maiden series Down Under, beating Australia by 31 runs in the opening Test with an irresistible fusion of self-belief, hunger and talent here Monday.

Chasing 323, the hosts were bowled out for 291 in 119.5 overs shortly before tea on day five with Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami taking three wickets each for a 1-0 lead in the four-match series. Rishabh Pant finished with 11 catches, and equalled the record for most dismissals in a Test by a wicketkeeper, sharing it with England’s Jack Russell and South Africa’s AB de Villiers.

Things went too close for comfort for India as Nathan Lyon (38 not out) and Josh Hazlewood (13) put on 42 runs for the last wicket and frustrated the Indian bowling. The sparse crowd at Adelaide Oval cheered every single as the duo edged closer and the odd boundary didn’t help matters. Finally, things came to a close as Ashwin had Hazlewood caught at second slip in the 120th over to register India’s sixth Test win on Australian soil.

“It’s important to stay calm. The odds were stacked up against them as soon as we got Pat Cummins out. I wouldn’t say I was cool as ice but you try not to show it,” Kohli said at the end of the match.

Post lunch, India had a big early breakthrough when Australian skipper Tim Paine (41) played an uncharacteristic pull shot off Bumrah and only managed to loop it up for Pant to take an easy catch. The visitors then were bothered by two lower-order stands. First, Mitchell Starc (28) and Pat Cummins (28) put on 41 runs for the eighth wicket and carried Australia past 200 in the 89th over.

While Shami broke through that partnership, things didn’t ease out. Pant could have had 12 dismissals but he dropped Lyon in the 105th over off Bumrah. Four overs later, Kohli didn’t make any mistake at first slip as he helped dismiss Cummins, albeit he was frustrated with his 31-run stand with Lyon.

In the morning session, India removed Travis Head (14) and Shaun Marsh (60) as Australia reached 186 for six at lunch. Starting from overnight 104 for four, the Head-Marsh partnership lasted only 7.4 overs before India forced a breakthrough with the old Kookaburra ball. Head was the first to go, with Ishant Sharma (1-48) bowling a sharp bouncer that followed the batsman and left him no room. The ball looped up to gully where Ajinkya Rahane made no mistake. The duo had added 31 runs with the onus now on Marsh and Paine as the last recognized batting pair.

Marsh shouldered the responsibility and scored his first half-century in the fourth innings of a Test off 146 balls. It was his 10th Test half-century overall. He had looked comfortable at the crease all morning, but Bumrah removed him after the drinks break. The big moment came as the ball moved away just a tad and Marsh gave the slightest of edges to be caught behind in the 73rd over.

It was Pant’s ninth dismissal in the Test, equalling MS Dhoni (9 versus Australia, Melboure in 2014) as the second-best haul by an Indian wicket keeper in overseas Tests. He later equalled and went past Wriddhiman Saha’s Indian record for highest dismissals in a Test (10) against South Africa at Cape Town earlier in the year.

Cummins then helped Paine play out 10.5 overs, although he had a couple of hairy moments in the 74th over off Ashwin. India wasted a DRS review when they thought he had edged it.  Four balls later, a loud appeal for caught at short leg was turned down with Cummins reviewing it successfully this time. India scored 250 in their first innings with Cheteshwar Pujara anchoring with his 16th Test century.

Australia replied with 235 and conceded a 15-run lead. The visitors then finished at 307 in their second innings, including a collapse of five for 25, and set a competitive target on day four.

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Ranji Trophy: Jharkhand score thrilling 2-run win over Odisha

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Jharkhand

Ranchi | Jharkhand bowlers held their nerves as they guided their team to a nail-biting 2-run win over Odisha in the Elite Group C Ranji Trophy game here Sunday.

Subransu Senapati played a valiant unbeaten knock of 157 off 321 balls for the visitors, farming the strike beautifully in the company of the last two batsmen, but failed to take his team past the finishing line.

Chasing a stiff target of 260, Odisha were reeling at 8-154 when Senapati stitched two crucial partnerships with number 10 Basant Mohanty (4 off 38 balls) and number 11 Dhiraj Singh (7 off 43 balls) to take his side on the cusp of a memorable win.

But experienced pacer Varun Aaron (2-57) cleaned up Dhiraj Singh to dash off Odisha’s hopes as Jharkhand registered a heart-stopping win after conceding the first innings lead at the JSCA International Stadium.

For the hosts, Anukul Roy (4-51) was the main wicket- taker who was ably supported by Aaron, Rahul Shukla (2-43), Ashish Kumar (1-36) and Rahul Prasad (1-64). Senapati held the fort from one end but fell short of partners. But he was adjourned as the Man of the Match.

The close match brought back memories of the unforgettable 1991-92 final at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai when Kapil Dev’s Haryana managed victory by a similar margin against Mumbai to lift the Ranji Trophy.

Meanwhile, at Agartala, Haryana clinched six points as they defeated hosts Tripura by 55 runs. At Porvorim, the Goa versus Services match ended in a tame draw with the hosts grabbing 3 points on the basis of their first innings lead.

Brief scores:At Ranchi:Jharkhand 172 and 288 (Saurabh Tiwari 132; Rajesh Mohanty 4-87) beat Odisha 201 and 257 (Subransu Senapati 157 not out; Anukul Roy 4-51, Rahul Shukla 2-43)by 2 runs. Jharkhand 6 points, Odisha 0 points.

At Agartala: Haryana 292 and 119 (H J Rana 64; A S Sarkar 3-15) beat Tripura 250 and 106 (Pratyush Singh 23; A R Rana 4-37, Tinu Kundu 3-19) by 55 runs.

Haryana 6 points , Tripura 0 points. At Porvorim: Services 184 and 332 (Rahul Singh Gahlaut 111, Rajat Paliwal 94; Amit Verma 5-39) drew with Goa 259 and 67/2 (Amit Verma 23 not out). Goa 3 points, Services 1 point.

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